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November 2020
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On making jaywalking legal

Road safety experts and advocates have been calling for more people-friendly streets through design, policy and awareness initiatives embodied in what are usually referred to as 3 E’s – engineering, eduction and enforcement. Among the more contentious issues of road safety is jaywalking, which is defined as a pedestrian walking into or crossing a road while there are designated places or facilities for doing so. Jaywalking is a crime in most cities though enforcement can be lax in many. But while most technical and non-technical advocates of road safety agree that a more people-friendly or people-oriented environment along roads can be attained by decriminalizing jaywalking, the resistance to such a proposal mainly comes from the government and enforcement agencies. It is a bit surprising because even with studies and best practices showing better designs and policies coupled with IECs, the notion of pedestrians crossing the roads anywhere while not castigating motorists deliberately running down or swiping at the pedestrians seem unfathomable or difficult to understand for many administrators or enforcers.

Here is a nice article that argues for decriminalizing jaywalking:

Schmitt, A. and Brown, C.T. (October 16, 2020) “9 Reasons to Eliminate Jaywalking Laws Now,” Bloomberg CityLab, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-10-16/jaywalking-laws-don-t-make-streets-safer.

Of course, there’s another angle or perspective there in the article since it was written from the context of the current situation in the US. All the reasons, however, are valid and should be taken up seriously in a country like the Philippines where there is also a push for more people-friendly transportation that includes our roads and all its users.

Rainy days ahead

It’s that time of year again when it rains a lot. This year’s typhoon season has moved again to the latter part (last quarter) of the year. It used to be that we had typhoons lining up as early as June with the peak arrivals around August to September. This year, the bunch of them seem to be arriving in October and probably Novembers. These are the ones that usually cross the main island of Luzon through the Bicol Region. Typhoons in November tend to cross the Visayan Islands (central Philippines). Meanwhile, in December they tend to go through the southern island of Mindanao. The rains usually make roads slippery and risky to many travelers especially if the driver or rider choose to be reckless or less cautious. Floods cause congestion and wreak havoc to commuters who might get stranded due to the stoppage of traffic and transport services when roads are impassable to vehicles.

Fog along Sumulong Highwaynotice the wet roads that can be treacherous for travelers especially those on two wheelers.

Model storm tracks for the Western Pacific from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the US.

The model storm tracks suggest a number of typhoons may be forming in the Pacific Ocean and cross the Philippines from this week onwards. Of course, these are still just models that are generated from the data obtained from various sources using tools such as weather satellites and on-the-ground weather stations. Many of these typhoons might never materialize. One thing positive for sure is that these occurrences will bring more water and recharge depleted reservoirs to get us through the next dry season.

Research topics in the time of Covid-19, Part 1

It’s that time of year again when I usually write about research topics. I am tempted to share the updated research agenda our group prepared for our students at UP but perhaps a quick list would do for now. I guess the most relevant topics are those related to the Covid-19 pandemic including those about transport during the lockdown and post-ECQ. Here are some initial ideas about such relevant topics to take on:

  • Public transport supply and demand, operations – there are many topics that can be developed under this including those relating supply and demand. For example, it would be interesting to have a research assessing the supply of public transport modes with respect to the demand from the lockdown (ECQ to MECQ) to its easing (GCQ to MGCQ). Included here would be topics tackling the attempts at rationalizing transport routes (e.g., the introduction of bus services where there was none before, the continuing restriction for conventional/traditional jeepneys, etc.). For those into transport economics and finance and even policy, perhaps the service contracting scheme can be studied further and its different aspects meticulously and objectively examined. What are its limitations? What are the critical assumptions that need to be realized for it to be most effective and not abused or mismanaged?
  • Traffic engineering and management – there were suddenly many issues pertaining to this during the lockdowns. Among these were traffic management in the vicinity of checkpoints where queuing theory among other principles could have been applied in order to reduce congestion.
  • Active transportation – the DPWH already came out with guidelines for bike lanes along national roads. These will surely be used as reference by local government units (LGU) as they are obliged by a DILG memo to develop facilities for active transportation. Active transport here refers mainly to walking and cycling but in other cases have come to include the use of personal mobility devices (PMD). Much research is to be done for designs, users’ preferences, behavior in traffic, safety and other topics such as those relating active transport with public transport (e.g., as a last mile/kilometer mode for most people).
  • Level of service (LOS) – I had a nice, brief exchange about LOS and the notion that it is outdated. I believe it is not and many who parrot the notion lacks a deeper understanding not just of LOS but the principles, assumptions and data that goes into transportation and traffic analysis. Perhaps a multi-modal LOS criteria can be developed for the Philippines? If so, what parameters or measures can be used to describe our own LOS? What modes and facilities will be evaluated according to this? And how can solutions be developed with respect to such.

Of course, there are just so many of the traditional topics to take on. There will always be a backlog regarding these topics. In the sequel to this article, I will try to identify other topics for transportation research that can be considered as well as recall “old” topics that are still necessary regardless of the pandemic.

Pedestrians first!

The Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP) released a new tool for assessing walkability and presents good practice examples from many cities around the world. The tool can be used to assess and/or compare your city, a neighborhood or a street with others. Here is the link to the ITDP’s tool:

https://pedestriansfirst.itdp.org

There is an introductory article that came out recently from Planetizen about this tool:

Litman, T. (October 16, 2020) ‘Pedestrians First’ Measures Walkability for Babies, Toddlers, Caregivers, Everyone. Planetizen. https://www.planetizen.com/node/110876?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-10192020&mc_cid=1736ec624f&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1

On personal mobility devices (PMD)

Personal mobility devices (PMD) are in the news now as the Land Transportation Office (LTO) issued a statement calling for their users to be required to get a license. Apparently, the agency is interpreting the law for people operating motor vehicles as something that extends to users of all powered vehicles. This may be an example of the law not being apt or suitable for the times and not considering the specifications or operating characteristics of these vehicles. Thus, this issue emphasizes the need to update policies and regulations and perhaps re-formulate them to be less car-oriented or biased vs. active transport as well as this emergence of PMDs as another mode choice for travelers.

I took the following photos while conversing with one of the project research staff at our center who uses an electric PMD for his commute between UP and his home in the Cubao district. He related that he alternates between this and his motorcycle. When asked if he felt safe using the PMD, he said it was the same as when he rides a motorcycle as he also wears a helmet and protective pads when using the PMD.

I’ve seen a few PMD users along my commute and for most I thought they practiced safe riding. There were some though who seem to fancy themselves as stunt riders. These are the ones who endanger not only themselves but other road users with their reckless behavior on the roads. They are not different from other so-called “kamote” drivers or riders (with all due respect to the kamote or sweet potato). Like any road user, these should also be apprehended and penalized for unsafe behavior that endangers others.

On the safety of transit use during the pandemic

Here is another quick share of an article that reports on a study showing that there is no direct correlation between COVID-19 and public transportation use:

editor@aashto.org (October 2, 2020) Study: No Direct Correlation Between COVID-19, Transit System Use. AASHTO Journal. https://aashtojournal.org/2020/10/02/study-no-direct-correlation-between-covid-19-transit-system-use/

Such articles and the study (there is a link in the article for the report) support the notion that public transportation can be made safe for use by commuters during the pandemic. The report is a compilation of best practices around the world that can be replicated here, for example, in order to assure the riding public that public transport (can be) is safe. Needless to say, car use is still less preferred and other findings have also supported active transport whenever applicable. This reference is both relevant and timely given the new pronouncement (or was it a proposal?) from the Philippines’ Department of Transportation (DOTr) to implement what they termed as “one seat apart” seating in public utility vehicles in order to increase the capacity of public transport in the country. The department has limited the number of road public transport vehicles and the current physical distancing requirements have reduced vehicle capacities to 20-30% of their seating capacities. It is worse for rail transit as designated spaces/seats in trains translated to capacities less than 10% of pre-lockdown numbers.

On sharrows

The term ‘sharrow’ basically short for shared right-of-way and refers to lanes or roads that are ‘designated’ for all modes of transport including and especially non-motorized ones such as bicycles. It also refers to the lane markings. There have been some mixed experiences and opinions about sharrows; particularly referring to whether they are effective. Here’s an article from the director of technology of Smart Design, which is a strategic design and innovation consulting firm in the US that gives another opinion (an evidence-based one) about sharrows:

Anderson, J. (September 30, 2020) “Safer with sharrows?”, World Highways, https://www.worldhighways.com/wh12/feature/safer-sharrows

I guess the experiences in different countries vary according to several factors. Perhaps these include cultural factors that also relate to human perceptions and behavior? Education is also definitely a factor here aside from awareness. And we have to work harder on these and together, rather than play the blame game on this matter that relates to safety. How many times has the observation that Filipinos tend to regard road signs and markings as merely suggestions rather than guides and regulations?

Pasig to Lucena vans

I was surprised to see a sign at the transport terminal of SM East Ortigas announcing van services between the mall and Lucena City (SM City Lucena terminal). This seems to be a very convenient service and it is via a route I consider to be quite scenic. This is the one via the “backdoor” of Rizal through the towns of Teresa, Morong, Tanay, Pililla in Rizal, Laguna province (Famy, Paete, Lumban, Pagsanjan, etc.) and Quezon province (Luisiana, Lucban, Tayabas).

Modern jitneys (actually more like mini-buses)

Close-up of sign showing the transport service between SM East Ortigas and SM Lucena in Quezon Province.

Public transport along Route 8: Cubao-Montalban

I had to go back to my usual commuting route to my workplace via Tumana as Marcos Highway is usually congested in the mornings. As such, I had the opportunity to take some photos of public transport modes along the way.

Bus plying Route 8 – Cubao Montalban along the Marikina – San Mateo – Montalban Road (J.P. Rizal Avenue in Marikina City). Montalban is the old name of the Municipality of Rodriguez in Rizal Province.

A Beep, a modern jitney that is actually a minibus plying to Parang-Stop & Shop route that used to be dominated by conventional jeepneys. That is, of course, a conventional tricycle on the other side of the road. By conventional I mean a motorcycle with a side car, which is the most common type of 3-wheeler in the country.

Recently, I saw G-Liner buses along Route 8. That means the bus company’s fleet is now distributed along 3 routes serving Rizal province and connecting it to Metro Manila. While, capacities are still limited due to physical distancing requirements, these buses should be able to carry a lot more passengers once the situation ‘normalizes’ so PUVs are able to maximize their seating (and standing) capacities.

On the transformation from car-oriented to people-oriented streets

I saw this article shared by a friend on social media and share it here as an interesting piece providing ideas and the thinking or attitude required if we are to transform our streets:

Jaffe, E. (2020) “4 ways to go from “streets for traffic” to “streets for people”, Medium, https://medium.com/sidewalk-talk/4-ways-to-go-from-streets-for-traffic-to-streets-for-people-6b196db3aabe [Last accessed: 9/30/2020]

It is actually interesting to see how this plays out in Philippine cities. The ‘honeymoon’ or ‘grace’ period from the lockdown to the ‘normalization’ (read: going back to the old normal) of traffic might just have a window and this is closing for active transport. National and local officials, for example, who seemed enthusiastic and quickly put up facilities for active transport have slowed down efforts or even stopped or reneged on their supposed commitments. The next few weeks (even months) will show us where we are really headed even as there are private sector initiatives for active transport promotion and integration.